This is National Dispatcher Appreciation Week. So far, I’ve attended a luncheon in Petaluma for Sonoma County Dispatchers and will attend a CHP sponsored BBQ in San Luis Obispo tomorrow. All around, agencies are celebrating their employees. I heard a staggering statistic today: only one percent of the American population is capable of doing this job.
It’s a pleasure to see department heads, division commanders and managers show up to honor those people who are the first line contact with the public. I am proud to have been a dispatcher.
The Mono County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard, Mounted Unit, and other department personnel stood alongside the California Highway Patrol to honor a fallen CHP Officer.
Please see the below press release issued by Officer Anne Morin of CHP.
-Jennifer Hansen, Public Information Officer
CHP HONORS FALLEN OFFICER DOUGLAS “SCOTT” RUSSELL
On July 31, 2013, a variety of law enforcement personnel and friends gathered at the Antelope Valley Cemetery in Coleville to honor fallen California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Douglas “Scott” Russell, who was killed in the line of duty on July 31, 2007. Officer Russell was 46 years old and was an officer for 22 years. He was assigned to the Placerville Office at the time of his death, six years ago. He was deploying a spike strip to assist other CHP units involved in a high speed pursuit when the driver of the vehicle intentionally struck Officer Russell with his car. Officer Russell died from his injuries. The driver that struck Officer Russell was convicted of murder and is currently on death row.
At 12:30pm yesterday, the time the pursuit began six years ago, personnel from the CHP’s Bridgeport, South Lake Tahoe, and Placerville offices; Mono County Sheriff Ralph Obenberger and his staff; Mammoth Lake Police Department Chief Dan Watson, Mono County District Attorney Tim Kendell; representatives from the US Marine Corp Mountain Warfare Training Center; and some close friends gathered for a few moments in a formal ceremony to place flowers on Officer Russell’s grave. CHP Lieutenant Ron Cohan, Commander of the Bridgeport Office, described the events of six years ago and his acquaintances with Officer Russell. In Lt. Cohan’s remarks, he noted that Officer Russell knew the dangers of being a pedestrian on the edge of a high speed pursuit. Despite his understanding of the dangers, Officer Russell honored his CHP oath, “…if necessary, lay down my life rather than swerve from the path of duty.” All uniformed personnel saluted while the US Marine Corps bugler played “Taps” and flowers were placed on Officer Russell’s grave.
Officer Russell, and his wife, Lynn, were longtime Antelope Valley residents and met while she was employed as a Mono County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher and he was assigned to the CHP’s Bridgeport office. Officer Russell was very athletic, an outdoor enthusiast, and loved living in the Eastern Sierra’s. For these reasons, his family chose to bury him at the Antelope Valley cemetery.
If you would like more information, or additional photos of the event, please contact Officer Anne Morin at the CHP Bridgeport Office (760) 932-7995.
Sharing a chuckle that comes from regularly working with someone under often trying conditions, I could feel some of my accumulated stress bleed off. Then Officer Andy and K-9 Rocky came up behind Sgt Dave. Petaluma Police had recently reinstated their Canine program; Rocky, a German Shepherd, was still relatively new and had yet been faced with the necessity to bring someone down outside of training.
Before we could strategize any further, the “Yutz” upped the ante on us by getting out of his car and standing next to it. Nothing quite irritates the hell out of a bunch of adrenaline fueled cops more than someone who just doesn’t want to go along with the program in a high risk situation. If the sound of multiple officers yelling at him in both Spanish and English didn’t catch his attention, one would have thought the distinctive sounds of multiple shot-gun actions being worked and the frenzied barking of Rocky would have. It didn’t.
Sgt. Dave told Officer Andy that he and Rocky now had the helm. Officer Andy shouted out that if the suspect didn’t comply with our instructions, he was going to release Rocky or words to that effect. By then, Rocky was very well caught up in the spirit of things and barking in what should have been an menacing manner to any sensible person, sober or not. An officer, who spoke Spanish, repeated Officer Andy’s commands.
No doubt more than one or two of us went slack-jawed when the suspect at last responded by dancing some type of jig in the street next to his car. This alone would have been the height of absurdity had not the suspect finished his little boogie by extending the middle fingers of both hands and held them defiantly aloft for all of us to see.
Succumbing perhaps to the influence of the Simpson’s C. Montgomery Burns, Sergeant Dave simply told Officer Andy, “Release the hound…” Well, at least that’s how I recall it.
Rocky, was off like Rin Tin Tin, eager like any other police rookie to finally put all his hard training to use for the first time. Before our would-be M. C. Hammer could rescind his crude digital display, Rocky leapt and grabbed Twinkle Toes’ right forearm in his jaws. The dog’s forward momentum carried him and the suspect to the ground. Half of us rushed the driver while the others took a most cooperative but rather inebriated passenger into custody. Just like that, the incident was over; it was almost textbook perfect in set-up and execution. The only injury was the bite from Rocky.
Sergeant Dave assigned someone from the Graveyard shift to take the suspect, who was quite clearly drunk, to the local hospital for treatment and a blood alcohol test. The passenger, equally smashed, was arrested and charged with public intoxication.
As everyone started leaving the scene, I saw amongst the assemblage, several units from the California Highway Patrol, a unit from the Sonoma County Sheriff and coming south on Stony Point Road, from his blocking position a half mile ahead of me was a unit from Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety. Quite the team effort. I looked at my watch and shook my head in dismay as I began filling out the CHP Form 180 to have the suspect’s car towed from the scene. It was well after end of watch and I had several hours of report writing ahead of me. “Go get him”, indeed!
Gerry is a regular contributor to Just the Facts, Ma’am. Check in weekly or so to see his newest posts.
My Motorola radio crackled loudly, only just audible over the siren and engine noise, “Tom-36, be advised, I have no units 10-8 (in service) to assist and no one in the area of the north end of town. We’ll notify CHP and SCSO. Also, we’ve had reports of patches of heavy fog in that area.”
Swell, Murphy – of “Murphy’s Law” infamy – was now definitely riding shotgun with me. Moreover, Petaluma Boulevard North, as it led out of town, was a divided roadway, with two lanes in each direction. It was not especially well lit and was lined with large oak trees that regularly claimed errant drunk drivers. I let dispatch know that the tan Toyota’s speed reached about seventy-five miles per hour and was weaving from one lane to the other. That was until we came upon the first patch of what is fondly known as “Tule Fog” – or by its more proper nomenclature, “Radiation Fog”. This bundle of condensation was about a hundred feet or so across and my lead-footed prey braked hard once more, quickly dumping off his speed like a fighter jet from Top Gun pulling up in a dog fight, only to increase velocity once out of the fog. Continuing on towards the north end of town, we encountered at least two more of the fog banks and each time, my fleeing driver would dutifully reduce his speed, albeit locking his brakes again on several occasions.
For those unfamiliar with Petaluma, at the far north end of town, Petaluma Boulevard turns to the east where it crosses over US Highway 101 and eventually becomes Old Redwood Highway. Just before the Boulevard crosses Hwy 101, it is intersected by another northbound street, Stony Point Road. In this area, Stony Point was an even more poorly lit, as well as a poorly paved, “country” road surrounded by large fields and very few residences. Why this is important, is that upon reaching this intersection, the suspect ran the red light and turned left onto Stony Point Road to continue heading north. We encountered several more patches of thick dense fog spilling out of the fields, crossing the roadway before closing on a long driveway that led up to an old farmhouse on the west side of the road. As we approached, the suspect turned on his left signal and began slowing as if they were going to turn into the driveway.
Still without any backup, I’ll admit to imagining all sorts of nightmare scenarios, each of which had me being lured into some type of ambush but almost the same time, I began formulating response strategies just in case. Reflecting back on my training, I knew about the best thing I could do was to gain more distance from them. Tactically, more distance means more time to react to any danger. Fortunately, all my threat assessments were for naught because they passed by that driveway and several others, continuing to signal for a left turn. Then, perhaps a mile or two ahead, I saw a set of flashing red and blue emergency lights speeding towards us. The suspect apparently saw the same thing and abruptly stopped his car right in the middle of the single northbound lane. About a half mile from us, the oncoming police unit stopped and proceeded to close off the southbound lane to any traffic. It was with palpable sense of relief that I finally heard, still off in the distance but converging on my position, the welcome sounds of multiple sirens meaning the cavalry was nearly there.
Unlike what is frequently depicted on the news, officers in my department did not rush up to the driver at the conclusion of a pursuit, screw a gun in his ear and/or yank him through a window. If doing so didn’t get you killed, it would probably get you fired and rightly so. Consequently, I had positioned my car a good five to seven car lengths from the tan Toyota, angled in such a way so that the engine would act as cover should they open fire on me. I got down low, behind the driver’s side front window frame, with my pistol pointed at the driver.
Using my patrol car’s public address system, I ordered the suspect driver to first turn off his car, then both occupants to put their hands on top of their heads and finally not to move. Naturally, neither of them complied and both made what is not so fondly referred to as “furtive movements”. Even after I repeated the commands two more times, they acted as if having a police officer point a loaded gun at them was all a perfectly natural happenstance.
As the sounds of the responding backup units grew closer, I tried repeating the commands in Spanish but to no avail. So, I turned my attention to directing the arriving units into what I felt were the best tactical positions. When at last I was joined by Sgt. Dave, down behind the door of my car, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Nice job.”
I shook my head, looked at him and replied, “Go get him, Ger? Seriously? Go get him?”
Read the final installment of Gerry’s pursuit tomorrow, May 9th, 2013
For writers, I have italicized common phrases used in cop culture conversation. Cops are like anyone else: they have their own vocabulary and lingo. Sprinkled throughout your manuscript, these carry the ring of authenticity. Also, for a not-quite complete but almost, list of California Law Enforcement Agencies search Wikipedia under that title. I only noted one agency missing-Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety!
It should be noted in this post that overall responsibilities across jurisdictions (notwithin city limits) belongs to either the CHP or the local sheriff–depending on the event. The Highway Patrol takes the lead in incident related to traffic or hazardous materials on all state highways and unincorporated areas. They are often assisted by the California Highway Department, Department of Fish and Game, possibly a contract clean-up company and/or local fire district engines and personnel. Examples would be a pursuit on the highway (again, notwithin city limits), a natural disaster or a hazardous materials spill. As I said in previous blogs, city police handle municipalities and sheriff’s department handles crimes in all unincorporated areas. The exception is road rage incidents on highways (even within city limits).
Taking the Lead
Let’s say a bad guy decides to rob a convenience store in the city of San Rafael then crosses city limits to San Anselmo to hole up with a hostage. There could be a jurisdictional issue. The agency in which the event is currently occurring (hostage situation-San Anselmo) would probably take the lead on this call. However, there are variations because no two events are ever the same. What is to be determined is called primary investigatory authority. What if the bad guy robbed a bank–then the FBI would take the lead. Local police departments (PDs) would secure the scene. That starts with establishing a perimeter. No one wants soccer mom walking into a shoot-out so staffed barricades would be set up far enough away to keep the public safe. (Obviously, if needed evacuations would be done inside the perimeter as safety permits–sometimes it is safer to stay where one is.) But we will discuss the FBI in a later blog.
Back to our scenario: agency heads can hash out the “lead agency” and act accordingly. Why would San Rafael want the bad guy? What if he killed the convenience store clerk? Murder trumps everything–it is considered a capital crime and may be eligible for the death penalty. Clearly, the District Attorney would pursue a murder charge over false imprisonment (that is assuming the bad guy gives up without hurting his hostage.). Even so, all violations are charged by the agencies involved. The DA will sift through the reports, talk to witnesses and decide which are the most prosecutable (read: bad guy has a good chance of being convicted) crimes.
Another variation: San Anselmo is a small department–less than 20 sworn officers; San Rafael PD is much larger–with 65 sworn–and more resources. It is feasible that a chief may hand over control to another solely because the event outstrips the logistical ability of their department.
Once the lead agency is assigned, it is rarely changed. I have never seen that at a primary event. However, should an officer shoot or get shot, the game changes. The lead agency remains the same but only investigates the instigating occurrence. Third party detectives would be brought in to an officer involved shooting (OIC) to insure investigative impartiality.
If needed, the Incident Command System(ICS) under the Unified Command System will be instigated and will request mutual aid. This is just what it sounds like: asking for help (usually staffing but can also be specific equipment or team such as SWAT, Bomb Squad or K-9). Most counties have pre-planned mutual aid agreements so there are no surprises. ICS streamlines communications during a major event. The Incident Commander relays needs to department liaisons to move resources. Top tier personnel make sure details are handled.
Once again, I’ve used up my word allotment on information I had not quite planned to write about. It seems that these things need to be said. Although there isn’t great detail, just about every scenario has “qualifications”. This bears repeating: no two incidents are ever the same,ever.
There isn’t a cop, commander or dispatcher out there who doesn’t think what is the worst thing that can happen…then plans for it.
City cops patrol within the city limits, sheriffs handle the unincorporated areas of the county. Well, then: what’s left? The highways….
Oh, the highway. Say, when I had that accident last month on Highway 101, the California Highway Patrol responded. They took the report, gave me information on the other driver, arranged for tow trucks and directed traffic. Those two officers were virtual supermen!
They were doing their job.
How about another scenario? I’m driving along Highway 101 north of Willits, California-the country for which “boondocks” was named. In the twilight, I see a woman flagging me down from the shoulder of the road. Next to her is decade old Japanese import with the hood open. I can’t see much but she looks pretty desperate–jumping up and down, waving her arms like that.
So I pull over, get out of my car and ask, What’s the problem?”
“Car trouble. There’s something making a terrible noise from the engine compartment on the passenger side.”
Nodding, I say, “I’ll look around.” I marched around to the side near the trees. I hear a sound like a shoe scraping on the gravel. Then a fist makes my jaw feel like it imploded and I drop to my knees.
“Where’s the keys?” I hear a man’s voice say. Where did he come from?
I hear the woman answer. “I got ‘em. Let’s get outta here.”
The doors slam on my brand new Lexus SUV and the tires spit gravel into a rooster tail as they leave.
So, do I call the highway patrol? Short answer–yes. The correct answer–wait for them to transfer you to the local sheriff. Sheriff?
California Highway Patrol (CHP) handles all traffic collisions and incidents (including oversized load transports, livestock crossings and hazardous materials) on state highways. But, if you are the victim of a crime that occurs on a state highway, the local sheriff or city jurisdiction will handle the criminal case.
Because the CHP covers the state from border to border, there are a lot of rural lands to patrol. When I worked for Bishop Police Department (BPD) from 1994-2004, our department and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department (ICSO) often called upon the CHP for back up. CHP officers were limited, though. While the BPD and ICSO were handling bar fights, domestic disputes, or whatever, CHP provided assistance for the safety of people at the scene. Because they had minimal criminal law in their academy and didn’t have consistent chances to exercise their knowledge, they were at a loss to help in the investigation. These days, the CHP has added much more criminal law to their curriculum possibly because of this issue, but certainly to better educate their officers.
I could spend a lot more time talking about the invaluable jobs the CHP performs: rescues, air operations, fraud and stolen vehicle investigations. There are many more. I’d sound like a recruiter if I kept it up, so I’ll move on.
The California State Police (CSP) was commissioned in 1887 and dissolved or merged into the CHP in 1995. Its responsibilities were dignitary protection for the governor and state officials, investigative services to elected officials through Threat Assessment Detail and criminal investigations through the Bureau of Investigative Services. They patrolled the State Water Project (also known as the California Aqueduct), state properties such as courts, fairgrounds, Veteran’s Buildings and were the state’s unofficial capitol police.
I mention the CSP only because many states in the US have State Police Departments that function as our CHP does.
California is fortunate to have the Highway Patrol.